TERRE HAUTE —
Over the span of its 103-year history, the Indiana boys high school basketball tournament has traditionally generated its share of stunning upsets.
None were bigger on the Wabash Valley scene than those that unfolded 50 years ago this month. That’s when an unheralded band of Garfield cagers from the Terre Haute northside made an improbable run in the 1963 state tourney.
This ballclub struggled during the early part of the season, searching to find a winning formula, only to reverse its sagging fortunes as tourney time approached. It was a winning combination that, when discovered, stunned insiders with a late-season turnaround and led to a trip to the state finals at historic Butler Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Saddled with a 3-9 record and facing a losing season mark near tourney time, the Purple Eagles put together a 13-game winning streak.
That blitz of a finish not only surprised the so-called experts who had predicted an early exit from the tourney for the northsiders but many of Garfield’s loyal followers.
<center>Beginning of the tourney run<center/>
The magical journey began in the always-unpredictable Terre Haute Sectional, where the Eagles had to squeak out a narrow two-point win over city rival Wiley, an overtime victory over West Vigo and then a lopsided win over arch-rival Gerstmeyer in the title game.
All three of their opponents had beaten the Eagles earlier in the season, including Gerstmeyer, which took a four-overtime decision from Garfield on the same Indiana State Arena floor only weeks earlier in the regular season.
Anchored by a stingy defense, the Eagles rolled through the Terre Haute Regional with convincing wins over little Freedom and perennial tourney powerhouse Bloomfield, earning them a ticket to the Evansville Semistate.
Defending state champion Evansville Bosse was the clear-cut favorite playing on its home court at Roberts Stadium. The rest of the field included little Ireland, Seymour and the upset-minded Eagles.
<center>A semistate to remember<center/>
As expected, Bosse had little trouble disposing of the Ireland Spuds, while the Eagles continued their unexpected winning run with a nailbiting 52-51 decision over Seymour in the second game of the afternoon.
That set the stage for what appeared would be a certain return trip to the state finals for the seasoned 22-4 Bulldogs.
Almost from the onset, the title game turned as ugly as the damp and dreary skies that surrounded the crowded stadium for the heavily favored Bulldogs as they felt the sting of a puzzling Garfield defense that had the hometown team tied up in knots throughout the night.
The Eagles meticulously built an 11-10 lead at the end of the first quarter and were on top by five at the intermission. Even with their near-perfect effort and entering the final period clinging to a precarious 43-37 advantage, few in attendance gave the Garfield squad a chance of fending off an inevitable rally from the defending state champs.
In what the assembled press would later term one of the biggest upsets in tourney history, the Eagles played the final eight minutes to near perfection, dethroning the Bulldogs by a 60-55 score.
Winning coach Willard Kehrt, who went with his starting five the entire contest, offered high praise for his ballclub and termed the win the biggest of his highly successful coaching career.
“This was the biggest and most thrilling win we’ve ever had,” said the Hall of Fame coach, who had notched his 400th career win earlier in the season. “I was truly amazed at the way the kids handled themselves there at the end. I kept hoping they wouldn’t fall apart.
“This was a bunch of nobodies that wasn’t suppose to do anything. Now look where we are. They did themselves and Terre Haute proud.”
Although the miracle run would come to an abrupt end against a taller and much quicker South Bend Central team a week later in the state finals, the run by the Eagles remains one of the most surprising and popular chapters in Terre Haute basketball history.
Central ended Garfield’s run with a 72-45 decision at Butler Fieldhouse. Frank Hamblen, who went led the Purple Eagles with 14 points in that loss, would later go on to play basketball at Syracuse University and enjoy a successful career as an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, among other NBA teams.
The loss didn’t sour the memory for many involved with the magical trip to Indianapolis.
Those close to it recall with pride and excitement the chain of events that led up to and through what has been the last trip for a team from north Terre Haute to the state finals.
Former team players and coaches of the team rightfully look back with a deep sense of accomplishment on their efforts now five decades later.
Bob Kehrt, son of the head coach, was a year removed from his Big Ten playing days at Purdue and had a first-hand look at the Eagles’ miracle run.
“Dad always said it wasn’t the best team he ever had but maybe his smartest. They had basketball savvy. The chemistry wasn’t there early, but they worked their way through it and was a very good ballclub going into the tournament,” recalled the younger Kehrt.
Don Jennings served as assistant for the team and recalls the turnaround that led to the eventual winning drive.
“We struggled early in the year, but jelled just at the right time. You always want your ballclub playing at its best going into the tournament. I think the key to our success was our defense. That 2-1-2 matchup zone carried us a long way,” recalled Jennings, who also served as the school’s head baseball coach and later went on to take Terre Haute North to two baseball state-final appearances, including the state title in 1974.
Garfield’s 1962-63 roster was a blend of four seniors and eight underclassmen who knew and handled their respective roles well. It included seniors Greg Samuels, Skip Greenleaf, Jack Sanders and Bill Morris and juniors Jim McCallum, Vic Fink, Glenn Salmon, Bob Poynter, Frank Bell, Terry Roberts and Charlie Bensley. Hamblen was the lone sophomore.
Coach Kehrt had spent most of the early part of the season trying to assemble a winning lineup going through 11 different starting units before hitting on the right combination.
Throughout the tourney run, each player — including the subs — provided pivotal roles that produced a winning outcome.
Samuels, the senior leader, led the club in scoring with an average of 14.7 points per game. But more importantly he provided the on-floor leadership that a disciplined offense needed to be so effective.
Now living in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and retired after a successful career in sales, Samuels looks back with pride on his playing days at the high school and collegiate level, where he played at Middle Tennessee State.
The events leading up to and through the tournament journey remain fresh in his mind today, with the Bosse contest standing out the most.
“Without question, we played our best game of the year when we went up against Bosse. We had only five turnovers, our defense was superb against a really good ballclub and offensively we scored enough to win. Defensively, that 2-1-2 match-up zone was so unique that it had the flexibility to be either a zone defense or the switch to a straight man-to-man with a signal called from coach Kehrt. It confused the opposition and contributed greatly to us winning 13 straight at just the right time,” Samuels recalled.
While the trip to Indianapolis ended in disappointment, one bright spot of the day was Samuels being awarded the coveted Trester Award for Mental Attitude. It was symbolic for not only his play on the court but his work in the classroom.
“Something was said about how smart of team we might have been. I do recall that all four seniors were on the National Honor Society, which may have had a little to with our play,” noted Samuels, who served as senior class president.
Sanders drew a starting nod for his stellar defensive play near midseason and on any given night was given the tough task of guarding the opponents best offensive player. No bigger assignment came his way than in the Bosse contest when he was called upon to defend the Bulldogs’ leader scorer and all-state candidate Jerry Southwood.
“Too bad the Bosse game wasn’t the final game at Butler because it mirrored the movie ‘Hoosiers’ in terms of the story line and how it played out. I think if we had played them nine more times we would have lost them all. No one would have bet against them returning to Indy and even repeating as state champion,” said Sanders.
The crafty southpaw, who also starred on the baseball diamond, limited Southwood to 14 points.
“I knew how well he could shoot a jumper and I was able to keep the ball out of hands by staying on his grill. I also remember that our guys made a lot of key shots and that we didn’t make many turnovers. I recall Southwood being so frustrated that he punched the ball way up into the stands at the buzzer,” added Sanders, who now resides in Johnson City, Tenn.
Charlie Bensley, a 6-4 junior, played in the middle and looks back on the ’62-63 season as one filled with surprises.
“It really was a remarkable season. I think at one point, we were 3-9, not winning games [and we went] to winning games we weren’t suppose to,” he said in retrospect.
He still looks back in amazement at the Bosse game when, as a starter, he went the entire 32 minutes.
“I remember coach being asked why he didn’t substitute,” Bensley said.
Kehrt’s simple response: ”Things were going so well, I didn’t want to screw it up.”
“It really was a great night,” added Bensley, who went on to play at the Air Force Academy and Hawaii.
<center>A true team effort<center/>
Morris, a reserve forward who put down a key baseline jumper in the closing moments of the Seymour contest, reflected on the season and semistate final.
“We did not have one dominating player, but we had a bunch of really good, fundamentally sound players,” he recalled.
“I remember coach Kehrt saying before the game with Seymour that we could beat Bosse if we got past Seymour, which we were fortunate enough to do. What I remember most about the Bosse game was how the reigning state champions came to our lockerroom to congratulate us and wish us well in the finals. I thought that was a really classy act for a group of young men who just had their dreams of a repeat championship crushed by a bunch of overachievers from Terre Haute.”
Greenleaf went on to play at Michigan Tech, was a frequent starter throughout the year and vividly recalls the semistate game with Bosse.
“I watched five teammates play the game of their lives. I remember the feeling of walking onto the [Butler] Fieldhouse floor for our finals practice. It was portrayed well in the movie Hoosiers. Also the excitement through out our fan section and watching Greg [Samuels] go up to get the Trester Award. We were able to live the Hoosiers dream of playing in the state finals and we had that great welcome when we came back home.”
Poynter, a reserve guard who remains close to the Terre Haute high school sporting scene as a photographer for the Tribune-Star, says the Bosse game still remains fresh in his memory.
“What an awesome game,” Poynter recalled. “I remember how Greg Samuels took over the game. He wasn’t intimidated by all the hype with Bosse. We knew Greg was the guy who would get the job done when the game was on the line. We just expected it out of him.”
Tom Miller, who severed as an assistant for the basketball team and was the school’s head football coach, is retired and resides in his hometown of Brazil.
As team members reflect on those magical moments, they also take time to remember two who are no longer with them — coach Kehrt, who died in an auto accident in 1996, and McCallum, who died unexpectedly following complications from heart surgery in 1998.
Purple Eagles started season 3-9 before catching fire late in season
TERRE HAUTE —
Over the span of its 103-year history, the Indiana boys high school basketball tournament has traditionally generated its share of stunning upsets.
- High School
West Vigo baseball wins in rout
When Brandin Behringer drove in his first run Thursday evening, it gave West Vigo a short-lived lead in nonconference high school baseball.
The remainder of the Viking senior’s RBIs came four at a time in the bottom of the fourth inning, his grand-slam homer capping the second of consecutive seven-run innings that sent his team to a 15-3 win over visiting North Vermillion.
Prep roundup: Vikings get big hits to beat North Vermillion on softball diamond
The West Vigo softball team improved to 4-3 for the season with an 11-4 victory over North Vermillion on Thursday.
Leah Morrison busted the game open with a three-run double in the Vikings’ seven-run fourth inning.
Kenzie Little chipped in with a two-run triple in the sixth and Hannah Harden tossed a complete-game for the pitching win.
Prep baseball: Northview beats top-ranked Shakamak
Damon Bass pitched a three-hit shutout and struck out seven to lead Northview to a 7-0 high school baseball victory over Shakamak.
The visiting Knights blew open a tight game against Class A’s top-ranked team with a four-run seventh inning.
Austin Butts and Jake Harden combined for six hits for Northview.
PREP ROUNDUP: North girls tennis wins 5-0 at Plainfield
Terre Haute North’s girls tennis team swept its opening match of the high school season as it defeated Plainfield 5-0 on Wednesday.
AMEY TAKES AIM: Loss of Coach Bennett leaves hole in Marshall
My email box is a little less busy now, and there’ll be a familiar face missing on basketball trips to Marshall in the future.
Roncalli fights past North Central in extra innings on way to Braves Bash title
Roncalli became a three-time Gold Bracket champion of the sixth annual Braves Bash high school softball tournament at Terre Haute’s Miss Softball America complex Saturday night by defeating Evansville Mater Dei 7-1 in the title game.
The 12-team round-robin tournament, which started Friday evening with three pools, and concluded with bracket championships Saturday night.
Sullivan enjoys record golf day at Northview Invitational
Sullivan and No. 1 player Nathan Pirtle were top finishers in the Northview Invitational for high school boys golf teams played Saturday at Forest Park.
TH North loses to McCutcheon, beats Harrison (West Lafayette)
Terre Haute North bounced back from a big loss to host McCutcheon to defeat Harrison (West Lafayette) in a pair of high school baseball games Saturday.
The Mavericks defeated the Patriots 17-7 early Saturday, but North beat the Raiders 9-4 later in the day.
West Vigo baseball drops first two in Center Grove Classic
West Vigo hammered the baseball all over the field and had a double-digit lead through three innings early in the week at Seeger before rain washed it out short of a complete game.
TH South sweeps MIC baseball doubleheader
Justin Jenkins and Timmy Herrin led visiting Terre Haute South to a sweep of a Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference high school baseball doubleheader Saturday at Indianapolis North Central.
Opening their final MIC season, the Braves won the opener 9-6 and the nightcap 8-6.
Braves Softball Bash a 'premier' early-season tournament
The Braves Softball Bash has grown to 12 schools in 2014, with high school teams looking to gauge their early-season progress against quality competition.
The host Braves have put together a solid 3-1 start that includes a doubleheader sweep of Casey, Ill., a newcomer to the field along with West Vigo.
Golf season gets going Saturday with Northview Invitational
Most high school boys golf teams in the area will get the season started Saturday in the Northview Invitational at Forest Park.
New players will be in the lineups for many of the teams. Sullivan and Greencastle are the leaders in returning players.
PREP ROUNDUP: Allen homers in North softball win
Jazmine Allen had her first home run of the season and she and Conner Nelson combined for five hits and four RBIs as Terre Haute North defeated Sullivan 8-1 on Thursday in nonconference high school softball.
PREP ROUNDUP: South offense leads Braves to dominant win over Lincoln
Justin Jenkins had three hits and Jacob Johnson and Zach Donnelly drove in four runs apiece as Terre Haute South rolled to a 15-2 high school baseball victory Wednesday at Vincennes Lincoln.
Terre Haute North tops Sullivan, falls to Class A No. 1 Shakamak
Class A No. 1-ranked Shakamak got a big pitching performance and big hits from Braxton and Brett Yeryar Tuesday night while beating Terre Haute North 5-2 at Don Jennings Field.
Prep roundup: West Vigo softball wins in 4 1/2 innings
Charity Lane, Shelby Edington, Baylee Waters and Leah Morrison each had two hits and Lane knocked in three runs to lead West Vigo past visiting Turkey Run 13-2 in a run-rule high school softball game that went 4 1/2 innings Tuesday.
Terre Haute South cruises to Braves Bash title
Terre Haute South knew it had a deep pitching staff going into the 11th annual Braves Bash baseball tournament and that proved to be true. But the Braves’ offense surprised everyone but the players Saturday as South won two 10-run-rule games en route to the championship.
South defeated Mount Vernon 10-0 Saturday morning and capped the championship with a 14-4, come-from-behind victory over Munster in the finale.
PREP ROUNDUP: Collett homers as North splits doubleheader
Sophomore T.J. Collett hit a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning in the first game of a doubleheader as Terre Haute North opened its high school baseball season with a 9-3 victory over host Hamilton Southeastern on Saturday.
The Patriots lost the nightcap 6-0 after three first-inning errors led to three unearned runs.
Metro sports: Locks of Love tournament today at Memorial Stadium
The Indiana State Women’s Soccer team will host its annual Locks of Love tournament today. The 4th annual event will begin at 9 a.m. at Memorial Stadium.
PREP TRACK PREVIEW: Raetz, Holman among new coaches
Two new coaches are in charge among the eight Vigo County and Northview high school track teams in 2014, although one of them isn’t really that new.
Mark Raetz has taken over the Northview boys for Chad Smith, who is battling an illness. Raetz formerly headed the Terre Haute South boys program for two seasons.
Metro sports: ISU blanks Austin Peay in 6-plus innings
Indiana State’s baseball team posted another mid-week victory Wednesday night as four pitchers combined to throw a three-hit shutout and lead a 3-0 victory over Austin Peay State at Bob Warn Field.
Season preview: Vigo County, Northview baseball teams ready to roll
To no one’s surprise, Wabash Valley baseball fans don’t have to leave Vigo County — although they certainly could, as described later in this article — to find talented baseball players on the high school diamond this spring.
Terre Haute North has a quartet of .300 hitters returning — Zach Milam, Jonathan Eilbracht, Nathan Will and Lane Dransfield — in addition to super sophomore T.J. Collett, who led the Patriots with a team-best 50 runs batted in for the 24-7 Patriots last season. Collett hit .424 with six doubles, two triples and nine home runs as a freshman.
PREP ROUNDUP: Marlow's 10 RBI leads Braves' softball at Casey
Terre Haute South’s Kelsey Marlow had 10 runs-batted-in during a doubleheader sweep at Casey.
Metro sports: ISU’s Stone, Riemenschneider honored by MVC
Indiana State junior Megan Stone and freshman Brooke Riemenschneider each earned Missouri Valley Conference Athlete of the Week honors, according to an announcement from the league office Monday.
Girls state finals leaving Terre Haute
The IHSAA and city of Terre Haute are still on excellent terms, insists Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Dave Patterson. But that didn’t keep the girls basketball state finals from returning to Indianapolis in 2015 after a three-year stint with Terre Haute’s Hulman Center serving as the host venue.
TH South comes out swinging in softball opener
The combination of experience and talent has created great expectations, from both the fans and players, for the Terre Haute South High School softball team. The Braves displayed both Friday afternoon in an impressive 11-4 season-opening victory over host Southmont.
SOFTBALL PREVIEW: Big Four teams looking to build off strong 2013 seasons
Although any of the four would have liked more postseason success, the spring of 2013 was a good one for the Big Four high school softball teams. That’s good news.
Even better news for the three Vigo County teams is that very few seniors who contributed to that success are missing, and hopes are even higher this year.
Til it's over: Long wait finally over for first-year West Vigo baseball coach
My sincerest apology if I jinx it, but winter should be done now. This means, first and foremost, baseball season has arrived. It’s been a long winter for Culley DeGroote, in particular. He takes over the West Vigo program that his father Steve DeGroote built into a perennial winner.
Metro sports: Silver Crown field filling up for Action Track
More than a dozen drivers are scheduled to seek their initial U.S. Auto Club Silver Crown championship victory April 6 when the Sumar Classic is run at the Terre Haute Action Track.
Amey Takes Aim: Columnist’s boys basketball tradition continues
In marked contrast to my recent whiny column about girls basketball, I was blessed this winter to see virtually every high school team in the Wabash Valley during the boys season.
Some might suggest that was a mixed blessing, since a few of our teams weren’t as successful as they are used to being (particularly in the 2014 portion of the season), but the Tribune-Star was still involved with two teams that came within a game of the state finals, one of them in an Indiana final four (no capitalization anymore, new system) and two teams that were in the top eight of their class. That’s only three great teams — Paris was both a game away and in the final eight — but that’s still a pretty good haul.
- More High School Headlines
- West Vigo baseball wins in rout